Sep 1, 2015
|Tuesday, September 1st.
We lucked out with Camping Regio. It was a huge campground adjacent to a very large hotel and essentially empty. We had a lovely quiet night. The best of all was that the bus stop was at the entrance to the campground. The ride in was about 45 minutes but we think of these rides as a pretty inexpensive tour of the surroundings. The bus dropped us off fairly close to the old town and it was a short walk (albeit up hill) to the main square or plaza mayor. Like all the cities we have visited this main square built in 1755 is the centre of town. It has been home to the town hall, a market, bull-ring, (last one in 1992) strolling, as well as bearing witness to the political socio-economical and religious upheavals experienced by both Salamanca and Spain over the centuries. In 2005 Salamanca celebrated the Plaza Mayor’s 250th anniversary. This square is also the entrance to the old town with 8 lanes or streets leading away from it.
Each of the 88 arches of the square bear a medallion which in turn hold a bust of a distinguished figure, linked to the city’s history.
As with most cities in Spain they have seen a few upheavals. In 220 BC the Celts were besieged by Hannibal. Later the Romans arrived, then after the Muslins arrival in the 9th. C. it changed hands repeatedly.
The greatest turning point in the city’s history was the founding of the university in 1218. It became the equal of Oxford and Bologna and by the end of the 15th century was the focal point of some of the richest artistic activity in the country. Hummff.
Once we had our tourist maps in hand and had determined which sites we needed to see we set forth toward the Cathedrals.
Along the way we discovered a beautiful building covered in frescoes but then noticed there wasn’t a building only it’s propped up front. They were restoring the building but wanted to retain the original front.
Next on the street was the Casa de las Conchas, named after the 300 scalloped shells clinging to its façade. The original owner was a doctor at the court of Isabel and a member of the Order of Santiago, whose symbol is the shell. (by the way I don’t remember mentioning the fact that anyone who finishes the last 100 km of the Camino de Compostela pilgrimage receives a scalloped shell as a memento of their achievement.). Entry is through a charming open bi-level courtyard.
Across the street is the entrance to the stunning Holy Spirit Church built on the highest point of Salamanca (good, everything should be downhill now) between 1617 and 1665. The next tour wasn’t until 5 pm and it was in Spanish so we enjoyed the outside of the building and carried on.
Beside the new Cathedral we decided to hop on the tourist train to get an overview of the city and then decide what we really wanted to see. I am finding that this is also a good way to get my bearings in a new city. They also give me a good perspective on how far A is to B etc.
As the tour was in Spanish I tried to mark out the sites I wanted to see on my map as we passed them. I did find it helpful.
I didn’t realize it at the time because the entrance of the old church was through the new one, but eventually I realized that we were touring the Catedral Vieja (old). Building of this Cathedral was started in 1120 and is somewhat of a hodge podge. There is a Gothic feel to the church but also a Byzantine influence shown in the unusual ribbed ceilings of the cupola.
One of Europe’s oldest organs a Mudejar work of art dating from the 16th C. resides in the choir.
The altar piece with 53 panels depicting scenes from the lives of Christ and Mary, topped by a representation of the Final Judgment, is said to be one of the most beautiful outside of Italy. It was exquisite!
I find it hard to believe that the reason for building the new church was; they had run out of space.
The new church shares a wall with the old one but stands higher. Its compelling churrigueresco (ornate style of baroque) dome is visible from almost every angle of the city. Its interior is similarly impressive with its elaborate choir stalls, main chapel and retro choir. Not to mention the ceilings – I loved the ceilings.
Outside and around the corner I noticed a little door that was partially opened. Inside I found the entrance to the towers and upper levels of both churches. How intriguing; up we climbed and found ourselves beside the roof of the old church with the flying buttresses of the new church above us. We wandered around up there, then through the old church; what a view looking down into the church, then kept walking along this high balcony and came through a door which led to a balcony overlooking the interior of the new church. What a view of the Altar and choir stalls.
Another door led us out to the roof with a great view of the city and the entrance to the bell and clock tower. Bill said no we had climbed enough stairs so we walked down the turret instead of up it.
Just down the hill from the Cathedrals was the Convent of St. Stephan’s church with its extraordinary altar-like façade. Such detail on the outside of the church, I could have stood for a while just studying it; well I actually did but I could have admired it longer. Besides the lovely cloister there was an overwhelming 17th C. altar piece by Jose Churriguera. ( Yep it’s the fellow that does the over the top baroque or I should say, the ornate style of baroque). I must say they are outlandish in appearance once you stop to look at them but at first glance they are a “Holy cow” experience.
By this time we both realized we were starving so back to the plaza for some tapas and wine before striking out to tour the university.
The entrance façade to the university is a tapestry in sandstone, bursting with images of mythical heroes, religious scenes and coats of arms, all dominated in the centre by the busts of Fernando and Isabel. It is truly a feast for the eyes.
Among the small lecture rooms arranged around the courtyard downstairs is the Aula de Fray Luis de Leon was named after the celebrated 16th century theologian and writer. It conserves the original benches and lectern from his day. Arrested by the Inquisition for having translated the Song of Solomon into Spanish the sardonic theologian returned to his class after five years in jail and resumed lecturing with the words, “As I was saying yesterday….”
The university staircase has symbols carved into the balustrade, seemingly of giant insects having a frolic with several bishops – to decode them was seen as symbolic of the quest for knowledge.
We were pretty close to being exhausted both mentally and physically but decided we had enough energy to hustle to the bus stop. The return trip took only 20 minutes with few stops.
It was another quite night.